How to decide when to stop breastfeeding
Deciding when to wean her baby from the breast can be a very difficult decision for a mother to make. The current recommendation by the Canadian Paediatric Society is to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of the baby’s life, and to encourage breastfeeding in conjunction with other foods for the next 18 months and beyond. There is no universally recommended time that breastfeeding should end.1
There are many factors that contribute to the decision on when to wean. Some of them are mother-led – when the mom decides to discontinue nursing, either by necessity or by preference. A return to work is a common reason, especially if pumping at work is not feasible. A feeling of exhaustion and a desire to share the feeding responsibility with another caregiver is another reason why some mothers choose to wean. Other reasons include concerns that the baby is not getting enough milk; pain during nursing; the mother’s need for certain medication; or discomfort once those sharp teeth start to make an appearance.
Some factors contributing to the decision are baby-led. As babies grow bigger and more mobile, it says often don’t want to sit still for a nursing session. And even if mom does manage to coax her over for lunch, she is busy looking around at all the exciting new sights, making breastfeeding difficult. Changes in mom’s body chemistry or diet, or the beginning of baby’s teething or an illness can also contribute to a nursing strike.
Mothers often feel a lot of pressure from other people to make a decision that isn’t necessarily right for them. This can be to breastfeed longer than she is comfortable with, causing feelings of frustration or resentment if she continues, or it can cause a feeling of guilt if she decides to stop anyway. Other mothers who choose to nurse into the toddler years also commonly feel pressured to wean before they are ready, and may feel like they need to hide how they are feeding their child.
Whether it is one overriding factor, or a combination of reasons, the weaning process is often an emotional time for moms, and should be supported with good information from her doctor to help her make an informed decision.